In this episode, we’ll be providing tips on how to navigate a successful career in market research. Stay tuned for the following weeks to hear the individual episodes of our referenced guests. 

Referenced Guests:

Nadia Masri, serial entrepreneur, founder of Perksy, and on Forbes 30 under 30 list

Whitney Dunlap-Fowler, founder of Insights in Color

Semaj Nitta, Student and aspiring consumer insight professional

Rebecca Brooks, founder of Alter Agents

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This Episode’s Sponsor: 

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Chueyee Yang: So, what are we going to do on this podcast Jamin? 

Jamin Brazil: We are going to answer the question, “How to manage a successful career in market research.”

Hi Happy Market Research Listeners! This is Jamin and I’m joined by Chueyee Yang, our Executive Producer. 

Chueyee Yang: Hi Everyone! As Jamin said, We are going into a new podcast series on How to Manage a Successful Career in Market Research. You might be thinking, why do I care about this topic? Well for many of us, 2020 left us concerned about our industry and our futures. 

Jamin Brazil: Yeah. Me too! In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released their US Unemployment Rates Report for January 2021. Just over 10 million American’s are currently unemployed. This  is still well above February 2020’s pre pandemic unemployment rate of 5 and a half million. 

Additionally, there are some factors that obscure the actual data. Specifically, companies are being incentivized to keep headcount that they may otherwise let go given budget constraints. 

But this is all very abstract. Let’s tell a human story. 

Back in August of 2020 I got a DM on LinkedIn from John. Now, John isn’t his real time. But, just imagine John. He has been in market research for about a decade. He has a wife, kids, and a house. 

John attends my weekly MRx Pros Virtual Lunch. You might even know him. Anyway, this is what he says, 

“By the way, the podcast is in my top rotation and makes my nights sane.  I took a second gig to get through these tough times working the night shift at a hotel.  While I am walking around cleaning, stocking the marketplace, and taking out the garbage to check on the resident raccoons, I am often listening to your podcast, if not yours, then I’m listening to The Classic Rock, Album-By-Album Podcast.”

First off, let me say, I’ve listened to The Classic Rock Album-By-Album Podcast…if you want to belly laugh, check it out!

Chueyee Yang: All of us have been impacted by the changes in the labor market. Some stories are tragic while others are remarkable. Just like John, I’ve taken a side gig. We are fortunate to have some great sponsors who enable me to spend nights and weekends working on this podcast. 

2020 taught us we need to be active in terms of managing our careers. This helps ensure we have a deep network. And, the better your network the more opportunities we have. 

Jamin Brazil: For this series, we interviewed a variety of people. You’ll hear from 

Nadia Masri, serial entrepreneur, founder of Perksy, and on Forbes 30 under 30 list. 

Whitney Dunlap-Fowler, founder of Insights in Color

Semaj (Sa-may) Nitta, Student and aspiring consumer insight professional

And, Rebecca Brooks, founder of Alter Agents. 

Chueyee Yang: How do you manage a successful career in consumer insights? This is a question we asked our guests. Let’s hear first from Rebecca, 

Rebecca Brook: I think that the three keys are first, is know exactly who you are. People tend to get into jobs or positions that they think might be a good fit or that they thought would be interesting but they’re not. It is very challenging to navigate a successful career when the decisions you’re making about where to go and how to move yourself forward aren’t in line with you really are as a person, what your strengths are. The second is that, and this isn’t a revelation for me, but that you should be interviewing the company just as much as they’re interviewing you, in particular, their work culture. I’ve seen a lot of excellent people take jobs at companies because they were really interesting or, I don’t know, a thousand different reasons, but there were red flags in the interview process that there was something off about the culture that wasn’t going to be a good fit for them. And then they spend the next two to three years struggling at a company that can really damage a career. So definitely pay attention to the work culture. Ask questions about it. Make sure that you’re going to be a good fit. Make sure that your skills are going to be valued and rewarded. And then the third thing I think is, don’t be afraid to make changes. I’ve taken some pretty big moves in my career, from leaving a senior position at a company to start my own business and other things that I’ve done along the way and I think that those risks have always paid off. There have been some things I’ve done that haven’t paid off, but in the grand scheme of things, I think that taking risks and pushing yourself brings dividends.

Jamin Brazil: Yeah. This is really solid advice. 

First, know yourself. What you are good at and what you enjoy. Try and connect those things. 

Interviewing should be as much about you getting to know them. When you ask a question you take control of the conversation. It puts you in power. This is something that many employers find very attractive. 

Always bet on yourself. Many times, fear holds us back. We are afraid to post something on LinkedIn. We are afraid to DM someone we’d like to get to know. So, we just pass on those ideas and opportunities. Don’t do that. If you are building your network, look at LinkedIn. It is great and getting better. 

Recently on Merrill Dubrow’s podcast, On the MARC, he asked me what I would do if I was starting off on LinkedIn. For me, I’d start by responding to other people’s posts. Not with thumbs ups or claps or whatever…but with a thoughtful question or response to their post. Then everyone that views their post will see your comment and, more importantly, so will they. 

Chueyee Yang: Nadia started her first company as a teenager. It was a babysitting network that vetted, trained babysitters, and coordinated babysitting services. Her current company is a research agency focused on Gen Z. 

Nadia Masri: In managing a successful career. I would say – so specifically in market research. Interesting. I would say, I don’t know how much my opinion is going to be aligned with other executives, but I know in terms of what I would look for is for starters be ruthlessly devoted to your craft. I think that I even see this in our researchers. They just have this inborn curiosity, this innate curiosity. They’re constantly fact-finding, they’re seeking to discover and they genuinely derive just great pleasure from being able to do the work that they’re doing. Like, they find it fascinating. Like sometimes – we’re not in the office anymore, but when we were just like a little shout out across the office, it’s like, hey guys, isn’t this fascinating, like, come check this out, like look at what this audience said. And like, look at the product that’s winning here. And I think that’s the first thing. It’s just being devoted to your craft, really caring about the work that you’re actually doing and being passionate about it. I think many people would say that. I think that’s almost like a templated answer, but it’s really true. The reason it’s a cliché is because it’s been proven time and time again to be a key marker for success. Without passion – I think passion and success go hand in hand. Without passion, you can’t really put in everything that you could, that you absolutely could. And so I think that’s the key component. The second is really trying to decide for yourself what type of career you want to have within your sector. I mean, there are different types of researchers. You could work for a big company. You could be an innovator. Do you want to be a leader? Like what sort of micro path do you want to go down? And really sort of try to define for yourself what those interests are. Do you want to be the person who’s the trailblazer at a big company? Some folks might say I want to go to this fortune 500 brand, and I want to do my best to trail blaze there. Whereas others might say, I would rather go to a fortune 500 brand and learn what the industry is. What’s the gold standard of how to think about research and how to conduct research? Or do you want to be the person that discovers that research is such a beautiful space? I mean, no one told me about that when I was in high school. No one told me that I could go into research. It was like, here are the boxes for what you can go into. You could be a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, work in marketing, PR all these different areas. You can be an engineer. But no one told me that I can take all of these different things that I love and find them in one place within the technology space. I loved technology. And then I came across research and was like this is an amazing space. It’s so interdisciplinary. I mean, it’s the intersection between behavioral science and the brand world, and in my case technology. And so I think it’s really trying to focus on what is the most important thing that you want to get out of your career and how can you decide which path to follow based on those decisions. And I would say the third thing in terms of managing career – I don’t know, that’s a tough one. I think I might just have two. I think maybe the third piece of advice is to each their own. You don’t have to do anything that anyone tells you, you have to do, ever. It is entirely your choice. You get to entirely – I don’t think that’s talked about enough. My parents sort of, they taught me that. My dad used to always tell me that that quote that’s probably on a 100 different magnets, but this is your world, shape it, or someone else will. But another thing my parents taught me was you never have to apologize for the path that you want to take. You never have to apologize for wanting to do things differently instead, you should embrace that. Because I think I used to, when I was younger. I used to feel like, because I didn’t want to do the same things that everyone else did that, that made me different. Maybe wrong somehow. And that turned into me becoming an entrepreneur. So I think it’s trying to figure out not just like – even don’t listen to me what I tell you to do with your career. I think it’s really about defining it for yourself. Figuring out what it is that you want most and following that path.

Jamin Brazil: I love her dad’s magnit wisdom, “This is your world, shape it, or someone else will.“ That is really what we are all doing with our lives. We have the right now and we have the past. But, the future is unwritten. In many ways, Nadia is saying we need to bring our fiction into reality. 

This requires us to have a dream for ourselves. Someone once asked me, “If there was no evil, no sickness, no limits on finances, and no Satan, what would you be doing in 10 years?”

This was one of the hardest thought exercises I’ve ever done. It literally took me 2 months to come up with an answer. 

Chueyee Yang: Yeah. That is the point. We need to have an idea of what we want to achieve and then start working towards it. Big bold steps are really just lots of little steps you’ve taken over a long period of time. But it is important to have an idea of where you want to go. 

For me, I really liked Whitney’s point of view. She was very focused on getting to know the tactical side of consumer insights… 

Whitney Dunlap-Fowler: It took me a while to kind of figure this out but I think I have some good ones. I would say get to know the ops side of the business. So the costing, the kind of nitty gritty admin work. I actually started on that side of the business. I was a qualitative field coordinator. I know the cost of everything. I know how things are going to work. I know what recruitment looks like. I know how to think about incentives, etc. And it actually makes me a smarter strategist in the long run so that I’m not suggesting lofty goals and ideas with my clients that actually are not affordable. That’s also really important as we start talking to more multicultural audiences. Listen, multicultural work, work that’s done correctly it costs money and I’m tired of us using these antiquated cost pricing tools based on mainstream, IE predominantly white audiences and what we’re hoping to get from them. If we want to talk about representative sample, representative consumer groups we have to pay for them and that’s just what it is. So the more you understand the ops side of the business, how things work, the admin and how long it’s going to take to do things the better strategist you become. The second thing would be admit what you don’t know. I believe that many researchers tend to start from a space of assumptions. We’re going to come do this project, we’re going, these are the things we know based on previous work that we’ve done with probably predominantly white audiences and this is how we’re going to start the work. Every time I get a research brief especially for semiotics or cultural insights everyone asks me “how are you going to do this project.” And I have to be honest Jamin I never really know because I never know what the results are going to be and I can admit that as a researcher. I’m fine with saying I don’t know what the answers to this are. That’s why you’ve hired me and we’re going to find some really cool solutions at the end of this because I never fail. But coming into a project with assumptions, coming into a project thinking that you know where the work is going to go and the solutions that are going to be created off the backend, that already starts the process of bias in the research. So you have to give yourself space and time to figure out the more nuanced things. And if you find that you aren’t getting them then something is wrong in the way that you’ve crafted that research in the first place. Lastly, I would say speak up and have some cojones. I find that this goes for both internal interactions and external interactions. I used to be in a space where I thought all of the researchers in the room came at a problem with the same assumptions or the same mindset. And it wasn’t until I realized that not saying something actually put us in a detriment that I realized my voice actually adds to this work and I can’t assume that people are coming at this knowing what I know. There are a lot of things that could’ve been prevented had I just spoken up about an idea or something that I knew was inherently wrong despite my seemingly junior presence in that room. So speak up if you have something to say. Don’t, it doesn’t matter if it’s, if you think it’s something that’s not additive, I promise you it’s added to someone’s reality and then more than that with your clients I just have my own type of pet peeves of people who kind of roll over for their clients. At the end of the day our clients are hiring us to be experts and they need to see us as such. Letting your clients kind of jump and move all around you doesn’t make you look like the most capable strategist. It makes you look like someone who’s just willing to do work in the way that your client want you to and that’s just what it is. So I find that the clients who love me love me because I have a particular brand of saying what the case is, what it needs to be. I’m always willing to do the work in the way that they want me to but I’m also going to present the other side of the argument and say this is why it’s wrong but we’ll do it. We’ll do it the way you want to but I’m going to let you know why this is probably not the best way to do it.

Jamin Brazil: This is really good advice. There is a calmness we can create with our clients when we are assertive from a position of knowledge and data. 

Recently I was on a call with Ellen Piper and the client asked something like, “Can we field our survey in an hour?” Ellen responded, we can, but your participants will mostly be professional survey takers and, we just did some research on research to measure the difference in how they answer versus a non-professional participant….” 

Anyways, the conversation ended with the client being relieved and happy that Ellen has a point of view backed up by data. 

The other way she could have responded was, “Certainly! We’ll do that for you right now!” But the client doesn’t want Mr. or Mss. Right Now. They want Mr. or Mss. Right. After all, their reputations and careers are on the line. 

Chueyee Yang: In addition to corporate and agency researchers, a large part of our audience are recent graduates who are looking for a career in marketing research. This next generation of marketing research professionals is entering our industry at a very unique time. Semaj (Sa-may) talks about her biggest fear post-graduation… 

Semaj Nitta: Not getting a job. I’m very scared that I won’t be qualified for positions that I really want to apply for or even a big company that I want to work for. I’m very nervous about not having a job especially in this economy right now too. It’s just really hard to not compare yourself especially accountants and finance majors who are getting their fulltime offers sophomore year and I’m a marketing major and still don’t have a fulltime offer yet. But that’s my biggest fear right now.

I am constantly applying and I’m constantly trying to improve my resume and cover letters to hopefully secure that position that I want in the future. I am also just constantly networking as well to any ad agency or any specific company that I want to work for to really understand how I’m able to get that position possibly post grad.

In 2020, there was a lot of fear in the emerging workforce given the number of opportunities went down so dramatically. This is why it is so important to network. Each person in your network will eventually have an opportunity that is perfect for you. The hard part is the investment that you make in your relationships now…before you need them. 

There are a variety of trade organizations that can help you connect including the Insights Association, Quirks, Green Book (they produce the GRIT report), and ESOMAR. 

Jamin Brazil: Yeah. And, back in March, I started a weekly 30-minute virtual lunch just to give people an  opportunity to connect. Now, every Tuesday we have 40-70 fun-loving User Experience, Market Research, and Customer Experience Professionals.

Our charter is to make friends, get smarter, and have fun!

When: Every Tuesday from 11-11:30am PT.

Agenda… 

The first half we hear from a guest speaker. Their talk includes one point and a human story. After that, we break into breakout rooms for a group discussion about whatever topic was proposed by the speaker. 

Some of our past and upcoming guests represent VP level insight pros at…

Roku

IDEO

General Mills

Disney

Mars

KPMG

You can check the show notes for a link to the Zoom or just DM me on LinkedIn and I’ll send you a personal invite! 

Lets end this capstone episode on how to manage a successful career in market research with a personal highlight. My question, “What advice would you give your 10 year younger self?” 

Rebecca Brook: I thought about that question when you posed it and I’m going to have to steal from Oprah. At the Qualtrics event in 2019 she spoke on the main stage. And somebody asked her that question and she said, I would tell myself to listen to the whispers. And that just really hit me. What she meant by that was, there’s always a little nagging, like, that doesn’t feel right thing that goes on in your head. And you push through it because you don’t want to cause waves or you just want to get through this thing or no, they’re not like that. You come up with a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t listen to the whisper. And most of the times, almost- Well, 100% of time for me, that whisper was right. And so I think that now I really try to, when I’m in a situation and I have that moment of like- To stop and think about it. What’s going on here? Why do I want to push forward with this despite the whisper? Is that the right thing to do? Intuition is another way to call it. It’s just, it’s paying attention to those red flags and not letting other circumstances kind of push you to ignore them because they will most likely come back and be a much bigger problem at some point.

Today’s contributing guests…

Nadia Masri, serial entrepreneur, founder of Perksy, and on Forbes 30 under 30 list. 

Whitney Dunlap-Fowler, founder of Insights in Color

Semaj Nitta (Sa-may), Student and aspiring consumer insight professional

And, Rebecca Brooks, founder of Alter Agents. 

Chueyee Yang: If you would like to hear the long form interviews, head over to the Happy Market Research podcast website at happymr.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. 

We hope you have a lovely rest of your day.